The Tale of Deacon Brodie
Long before Robert Louis Stevenson was one of the most read and translated authors in the world, he wrote a play entitled Deacon Brodie. Stevenson wrote the play in the 1860s, when he was still just a teenager. The work was put to the stage years later in 1892, but was unsuccessful and closed quickly. The play itself is not the topic of interest, however, but rather the subject of the play.
Stevenson’s script was based on a real person by the name of William Brodie, a cabinet-maker, deacon of a trades guild, and a councillor for the city of Edinburgh in Scotland during the 1780s. By all outward appearances, William Brodie was an upstanding citizen and civil servant. He was certainly a respectable tradesman, and was well respected as the deacon, or president, of the Incorporation of Wrights, a tradesguild which controlled the local craft of cabinetmaking. As a result of his position with the tradesguild, Brodie was also on the town council from 1781 to 1787.
I suppose this is an extended way of saying that people trusted Brodie. After all, trust was a fundamental part of his very profession. Back in the 18th century, it was common for cabinetmakers like Brodie to install and repair locks, as well as other home security measures. He had climbed the ranks of the local craftsman and was the guild’s representative to the city and therefore to the King.
Strange then, that sometime around 1785, rumor began to circulate about Edinburgh that Brodie was involved in helping a murderer escape from jail. With nothing but circumstantial evidence, that rumor seemed to fall off soon enough. Next came word that Brodie was keeping two mistresses, and raising children with each. Again, not an entirely uncommon circumstance, and something that was quickly overlooked by the public.
But then, something else happened. In August of 1786 there was a robbery. Maybe not surprising, petty crime after all does happen in all cities. In this case the robbery occurred at the place of business of Misters Johnston and Smith, two bankers associated with the Royal Exchange. The crime was investigated, but no signs of forced entry were found. In fact, the lock to the door had been unlocked, presumably by the use of a counterfeit key.
Then, on October 9th, a jewelry store was robbed of gold and diamond rings. In December, a hardware store was robbed. Next another jewelry store. Then a goldsmith’s. On and on, small robberies plagued Edinburgh throughout the next year. In all cases the elusive thieves were unseen, cleverly slipping in and out of the shops unnoticed. The crime spree lasted more than a full year, until January of 1788. A small band of thieves were undone from within when one member took advantage of an offer of a pardon from the King. The ringleader of this group of small time bandits? As I’m sure you’ve guessed, none other than Deacon Brodie.
The story of William Brodie is one that Robert Louis Stevenson would have been very familiar with. Not only was Stevenson also from Edinburgh, but his father actually owned cabinets that had been made by Brodie. The story seemed to really stick with the young author. On closer examination, it’s not too difficult to see why.
After all, Deacon Brody was a man who commanded respect. He had position and authority. Brodie did not want in terms of money or possessions. The very thought of his possible involvement with the band of thieves was ignored for a long time, even after it became clear that many of the break-ins had been perpetrated with the assistance of counterfeit keys. As Deacon of the Wrights, Brodie had installed many of those locks himself. There was no clear motive, no reason why a wealthy man should choose to engage in these crimes.
Although he did initially attempt to flee, Brodie was eventually arrested and stood trial for his crimes. Eventually it became clear that he was indeed the mastermind behind everything. When it came to uncover the motive, it was shocking in its simplicity. Brodie had engaged in these crimes not for the money, but for the thrill. He used the money to fund his gambling, an expense that he might have otherwise easily afforded anyway. Ultimately, Brodie was sentenced to death by hanging. His life ended at the very gallows that his association of woodworkers had built for the city.
This brings us back to Stevenson. In William Brodie, Stevenson saw a man who, by all outward appearances, was a good and respectable man. But on the inside, Brodie was a man who longed for more than the reality of his daily life could give him. He had respect, but he wanted to indulge. With the crime spree, Brodie allowed his inner self to emerge, reveling in vice at the cost of everything that he had worked for… Is it any wonder that Robert Louis Stevenson would go on to write The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?
The Duality of Man
The duality of man is a well visited narrative in horror. Examples include the highly intelligent and brutally violent cannibal Doctor Lectar from The Silence of the Lambs, and the quiet, unassuming nice guy turned homicidal maniac Norman Bates from Psycho. While these characters don’t immediately scream these characters as influences, I might argue that neither would exist were it not for the tale of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
In Stevenson’s original novel, there are two or three primary characters, depending on how you want to count Jekyll and Hyde. Doctor Henry Jekyll is a well respected doctor and scientist. He is described as a “large, well-made, smooth-face man of fifty.” Much like I imagine most folks to be, Jekyll struggles with his own wants and desires, repressing urges and vices that would be considered below a man of his position and class. While wrestling with these types of thoughts, Jekyll pursues the invention of a serum designed to separate and remove these urges from his personality. Surprisingly, the serum works, but perhaps a little bit too well. Instead of simply removing these urges from Jekyll, the serum causes him to undergo a drastic physical transformation. The serum causes Jekyll to transform into the smaller and cruel Mister Edward Hyde, the living embodiment of every evil thought and sinister urge from the utter recesses of Jekyll’s subconscious.
The other character in Stevenson’s novel is Gabriel Utterson, a lawyer and friend to Dr. Jekyll. Uttrerson is the main character and the cypher through which the audience experiences the story. The novel begins with the important events already in progress. Utterson learns from a friend that a little girl was trampled by a boorish named Edward Hyde. When Hyde was accosted by the townsfolk to pay retribution to the girl’s family, he does so by way of a check from the wealthy Dr. Jekyll. Utterson believes that Hyde must be somehow blackmailing his friend, and begins to investigate what might be going on.
Hyde continues on with his dastardly deeds, and is witnessed beating another man to death. Utterson notices that evidence found at the scene of the crime, being half of a broken cane, belongs to Jekyll. When Utterson confronts Jekyll about this, Jekyll shows him a note written by Hyde apologizing for the trouble he has caused. Utterson observes that the handwriting of the note is a style similar to Jekyll’s own, so he again assumes that Jekyll is for some reason covering for Hyde.
True to the note, however, it seems that Hyde has left town. For two months Jekyll returns to his normal social routine and there is no sign of Hyde. Abruptly, Jekyll begins to seclude himself in his laboratory once again. After two months of this behavior, Jekyll’s butler visits Utterson, telling him about Jekyll’s extended seclusion. Together, the two men break into Jekyll’s laboratory, intending to confront him and conduct an intervention of sorts. However, they are suprised by what they find: the body of Edward Hyde, apparently dead from suicide. And strangely, he is wearing the clothes of the good Dr. Jekyll.
The men find a letter, a written confession from Dr. Jekyll, explaining his role in this strange tale. He explains the creation of the serum, and how he came to imbibe it regularly as he enjoyed being able to live out his debassed desires through the terrible Mr,. Hyde. Once Hyde’s behavior began to get out of control, however, Jekyll resolved to stop taking the serum altogether. Then, one night, he involuntarily transformed into Hyde while sleeping.
This was a sobering and completely unexpected development. Jekyll wrestled greatly with his psyche but, in a moment of weakness, found himself drinking the serum just one more time. When he emerged this time, Hyde was completely enraged by how Jekyll had tried to suppress him. This was the day that Hyde was seen murdering the man in the street. With the law searching for Hyde, he collected the chemicals needed to create the serum himself. He mixed the concoction together, allowing Hyde to transform back into Jekyll and evading capture.
From this point forward, the situation for the good doctor Jekyll became increasingly dire. While he was now altogether committed to abstaining from the serum, he again involuntarily transformed into Hyde, this time while awake. As these involuntary transformations progressed, Jekyll found that drinking the serum could now halt the transformation, keeping him in control. Unfortunately, with each progressive transformation, Jekyll found that he needed larger and larger doses of the serum to keep Hyde at bay. And the ingredients were running out. Finally, with no way to stop his permanent transformation into Hyde, Jekyll chose to take his own life to end Hyde’s reign of terror.
It’s a relatively straightforward story, but one that was wildly imaginative for its time. Stevenson’s tale became so popular that the term “Jekyll and Hyde” became a well known short hand for two faced individuals, those that appeared to be good on the outside, but had the capacity for acting in a shockingly evil manner. Not at all unlike the “good” Deacon Brodie.
The First Film Adaptation
Stevenson’s novel was first translated to film in 1908. It was produced by the Selig Polyscope Company, and directed by Otis Turner. The film is unfortunately lost, but a summary survives in the March 7, 1908 edition of The Moving Picture World, a trade journal from the early days of the film industry. From the summary, it is clear that the film was based on the 1897 play adaptation written by Luella Forepaugh and George F. Fish, as opposed to Stevenson’s original novel.
Oddly, the Moving Picture World summary makes reference to the 1908 film adaptation being, and I quote, “presented in strict accordance with the original book.” However, this cannot be, as the film is described as being presented in the same 4 act structure as the 1897 play. Further, the film features what is probably the play’s biggest departure from the novel, being the introduction of Alice, a love interest for Dr. Jekyll. Most likely, when the summary refers to the original book, it is referring to the script for the stage play, which is often referred to as a “book” in theatrical parlance. As an example, when an actor learns all of their lines and no longer needs to have the script in front of them when rehearsing, the actor is said to be “off-book.”
An excellent and concise description of the play appears in Mark Griep’s blog article, from his website Reaction! Chemistry in the Movies, which is sponsored by Oxford University Press and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. His description reads:
The first act takes place in the garden vicarage, where Dr. Jekyll woos Alice, the Vicar’s daughter. He transforms because “he is irresistibly addicted to a drink of his own mixture” and then attacks Alice. When the Vicar interferes, Hyde kills him. The second act takes place in Mr. Utterson’s London law office, where Jekyll feels remorse and envisions a noose around his neck. […] The third act takes place in Dr. Lanyon’s office, Jekyll’s medical friend. At midnight, Lanyon sees an ogre on the portico of his building. The ogre is Hyde who enters his office, takes a drink of the formula, and astonishes Lanyon by transforming to Jekyll. The final act takes place in Dr. Jekyll’s laboratory, where there is a “last struggle for the supremacy of his real being.” Just as Jekyll wins, Alice pays him a visit. Her presence reminds him that he killed her father, which grieves him. After she leaves, he takes the formula to transform himself into Hyde who then “poisons himself to kill the Dr. Jekyll whom he hated.”
A Modern Dr. Jekyll (1909)
The Selig Polyscope Company likely found success in this adaptation, as they quickly followed up with a second film in 1909, entitled A Modern Dr. Jekyll. Many of the scholarly sources online refer to this film as possibly a reissue of the earlier 1908 film, but with a new title. This is likely due to an overabundance of caution. Since this and the 1908 films are both lost, there was a distinct lack of evidence that A Modern Dr. Jekyll was in fact a new and different film.
This confusion was finally put to rest in 2009 by Mark Griep, again from the Reaction! Chemistry in Movies blog. Griep and his colleague Marjorie Mikasen visited the Margaret Herrick Library, which is run by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles. The Library houses an extensive collection from the Selig Polyscope Company, and this visit produced two important pieces of evidence that solidify A Modern Dr. Jekyll as a standalone film. The first was the movie’s cutting continuity, a document that is often similar to a script and which outlines how scenes should be cut together in the final version of a film. The second is an advertising flier for the film, which features a picture of two men pushing a girl on a swing. Note that such a scene does not appear in the 1908 adaptation.
There is also a third piece of evidence, albeit brief. In the December 1909 edition of The Moving Picture World a short, three-sentence review of A Modern Dr. Jekyll reads:
A comedy which will set the audience laughing and keep them at it until the picture ceases. It is one of those pictures that compels attention by its absurdity and then keeps up a roar of laughter by its pure fun. Photography and acting are both good.
Gieg also produces a concise summary of A Modern Dr. Jekyll, based upon the details in the cutting continuity document. This is a film that no film scholar has ever seen, so I think the description warrants being reproduced here as well:
A Modern Dr. Jekyll begins when Jekyll reads a letter at the post office. From there, he enters a chemist’s shop, demonstrates the formula, and then leaves. A policeman enters the post office to obtain a description of Jekyll. Meanwhile, Jekyll passes a check at the bank, goes home, and tries the “Mystic fluid” again. The policeman enters the bank to learn that Jekyll had just been there. When the policeman reaches Jekyll’s home, he is sent away by a woman, who transforms back to Jekyll after the policeman leaves. Jekyll rushes past a banana stand, steals a horse and buggy, and rides past the policeman who stops him. A rapid series of transformations and near captures follow, during one of which Jekyll transforms into a girl on a swing. In the end, he is captured.
I was very much enthralled by the idea that comedic interpretation of the rather serious Stevenson story appeared in film so early on. Further, I had always assumed that the development of the gender-bending twist on the Jekyll/Hyde formula, namely the male Dr. Jekyll transforming into a female Hyde persona, was the product of much later productions, like the 1971 film, Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1912)
The first adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde that can still be seen comes from 1912. This is two years after the very first movie version of Frankenstein, which was discussed on episode six of Horrid. The film was produced by the Thanhouser Company, a modestly successful movie studio founded by Edwin and Gertrude Thanhauser in 1909.
I for one am always tempted to think about movies, especially early movies, as being shot on the sunny backlots and hills of Hollywood, California. Although 1912 is around the time that major motion picture companies were gaining traction in Hollywood, there was a time when the business of making movies was more geographically diverse. The Thanhouser Company, for example, operated out of New Rochelle, New York.
The Thanhouser Company was extremely prolific in these early days of American cinema. Between its founding in 1909 and its dissolution in 1920, the Thanhouser Company produced over one thousand films. One of the company’s best known films is also from 1912, and is entitled The Cry of the Children. This film was instrumental in bringing mainstream awareness and reform to the problem of child labor in the years just prior to World War I. In 2011, The Cry of the Children was selected by the National Film Preservation Board and the Library of Congress for inclusion in the national film registry.
Like the earlier film adaptation from 1908, the story of Thanhouser’s 1912 version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is again said to be based on the 1887 stage play. As near as I can tell, this claim is based on Dr. Jekyll being given a female love interest, as most of the other characters and plot points from the play are missing from the film’s 12 minute runtime.
The film was directed by Lucius J. Henderson, a classically trained musician and graduate of Harvard College. Henderson turned to stage acting in the mid-1880s, and then to directing for the Thanhouser Company in 1910. He relocated to Los Angeles in 1913, and by 1915 was directing films for the burgeoning film production company, Universal Studios. Henderson’s claim to fame was discovering Rodolfo Valentino, an Italian actor working in the United States, and who was a major sex symbol through the 1920s, known throughout Hollywood as the Latin Lover.
The roles of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are both credited to James Cruze, who was a regular leading man at Thanhouser Company from 1911 to 1916. Cruze would later go on to direct 74 films throughout the silent film era and into the beginning years of talking pictures. Although no one else is credited on the film, another actor, Harry Bedham, later claimed to play the role of Mr. Hyde in several scenes throughout the film. This revelation was reported during an interview with Bedham first published in the October 1963 edition of the Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine.
I don’t doubt Bedham’s claims, but the description he gives of his role sounds almost like what we might call a body double now. In his interview, Bedham described being swapped in for Cruze in several scenes to make production flow more smoothly. One thing I did note from the interview, however, was the following quote:
“The picture was a one-reeler made in New Rochelle, New York. James Cruze played Dr. Jekyll, [and] his wife Marguerite Snow was the leading lady.”
Based on this quote, it would seem that Bedham’s recollection of the filming, some 51 years later, was somewhat hazy. While Marguerite Snow does appear in the film as an extra, the leading lady, playing the otherwise nameless role of Jekyll’s sweetheart, is actually Florence La Badie. Though La Badie is not well remembered today, she was a major star from 1911 to 1917. Known in the movie industry as “Fearless Flo,” La Badie was known for taking risks and performing her own stunts. In 1917, LA Badie was experiencing the height of her movie career.Sadly, she was involved in a major automobile accident which resulted in her untimely death.
The film opens on a shot of page 281 of a book entitled “Graham on Drugs.” The short passage that is in focus reads, “The taking of certain drugs can separate man into two beings—one representing EVIL and the other GOOD.” The film quickly moves to a title card, telling the audience that Dr. Jekyll will now secretly put his theory to the test. I thought this was an interesting goof on the part of the filmmakers. Based on the title of the book, it would seem that this theory actually belongs to Graham, the author of the book, and not Dr. Jekyll. But, I digress.
We watch as Jekyll mixes together chemicals in his laboratory and then drinks the concoction. A quick, Melies-style substitution splice sees Dr. Jekyll replaced with the enraged Mr. Hyde. The transformation occurs in the blink of an eye, so in terms of the special effects there isn’t much to comment on here. Hyde’s appearance is suitably different from the tall and gentlemanly Dr. Jekyll though. Hyde has unruly, black hair, with elongated finger nails and sharp canine teeth. Unlike most movie adaptations, this Hyde is portrayed as hunched over, matching well with his description as a “dwarfish” man from Stevenson’s original novel.
As in most versions of the story, Jekyll uses the formula so many times, that he begins to spontaneously transform into Hyde without it. During one such transformation, Hyde injures a little girl and then comes across Jekyll’s sweetheart who is walking in the park with her father, the minister. Hyde tries to accost Jekyll’s sweetheart, and murders her father when the minister tries to intervene.
In the aftermath of this murder, Dr. Jekyll tries to hide himself away from the public eye. He seemingly goes out of his way to avoid his female companion- sorry, one more tangent here. I can’t believe that this character has no other credited name but “Jekyll’s sweetheart.” For simplicity, and my own sense of righteousness, I will call her Agnes, named after the character of Jekyll’s fiancée from the 1887 stage play.
So, Dr. Jekyll is avoiding Agnes until he happens upon her in the street one day. He is clearly conflicted, and turns to leave unnoticed. He stops suddenly, experiencing a change of heart, and goes to Agnes. They begin to share an emotional reconciliation, when Jekyll suddenly grasps at his throat-Hyde is emerging once again! He rushes off, trying to put distance between Agnes and Hyde while he still has control.
Once fully transformed, Hyde realizes that he is still wanted by the police for the murder of the minister. He rushes back to Jekyll’s laboratory, intending to imbibe the antidote to transform back into Jekyll and thus remain hidden. However, Dr. Jekyll’s butler, realizing that it is the murderous Mr. Hyde in his master’s laboratory, calls for help from the police. Cut back inside the lab, and Hyde realizes that the stock of antidote is depleted. As the police are literally breaking down the door to the lab, Hyde drinks a bottle of poison, killing himself and escaping from the consequences of his actions.
A couple of notes about the ending sequence of the movie. First, and this is more of a fun goof, at the 11:19 minute mark, you can see the policeman breaking down the door to Jekyll’s lab using the blunt backside of the axe. Not exactly the most efficient way to chop down a door. Second, the Wikipedia entry states that the police break into the lab to find the body of the kindly doctor. I’ve watched and rewatched this scene countless times, but I just don’t see the form of Dr. Jekyll on the floor. While the teeth and hands are somewhat obscured in the shot, the hair is clearly still black, like that of Hyde, and not white, like Jekyll. It’s a minor discrepancy, but still one I thought worth mentioning.
Overall, I rather enjoyed this version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and I think it is fairly representative of where film was as a medium in 1912. It’s an interesting touchstone for the time period, and one that I will return to in the next episode of Horrid.
If you’d like to watch Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde from 1912, you can find the full version on the transcript page for this episode on horridpodcast.com. Each transcript page includes the audio of this episode, the text transcript, and related media like movies and photographs.
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Until next time, stay scared.
References & Further Reading
- Gibson, John S. Deacon Brodie : Father to Jekyll and Hyde. Edinburgh : Saltire Society, 1993. Internet Archive.
- “Adaptations of Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” Wikipedia, 20 June 2020. Wikipedia.
- Chalmers Publishing Company. Moving Picture World (March 1908). The World Photographic Publishing Company, 1908. Internet Archive.
- Chemistry Movies Blog. Accessed 29 Sept. 2020.
- Griep, Mark. A Modern Dr. Jekyll (1909) by Selig Polyscope. p. 2.
- Griep, Mark. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1908) by Selig Polyscope. p. 1.
- “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1912 Film).” Wikipedia, 15 Sept. 2020. Wikipedia.